Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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Indigenous Queer Actor MorningStar Angeline Paves a Way in Film and TV

Indigenous Queer Actor MorningStar Angeline Paves a Way

A multi-hyphenate artist, MorningStar Angeline is quietly helping to shift stories about Indigenous people in Hollywood. Earlier this year, Angeline (who uses she/they pronouns) starred in The Incredible 25th Year of Mitzi Bearclaw, a sweet indie flick about a hat-designing dreamer who gets a second chance at bonding with her family when she’s called home to her community on a remote island to help care for her ailing mother. Next, they star in Amazon Studios’ Outer Range, where they play an Indigenous woman who has a wife and a daughter. To Angeline’s knowledge, it may be the first story about married Indigenous women on a major platform. It’s a story that not only opened a conversation about Angeline’s identity but also made them feel seen.

“I want to say there’s likely some indie film, some Native, smaller projects or non-Native projects [that center queer Indigenous folks], but I don’t know if there’s something that will have this wide of a reach,” Angeline says of the project that stars Josh Brolin and Schitt’s Creek’s Noah Reid. “We’ll have non-Natives and Natives watching it. That’s something that really hit me. I’m playing a character that is Native and Indigenous. It is not our complete story arc. It’s the backdrop, and that feels like a really huge gift to be depicting, you know, these beautiful queer families that we have [in the show] and doing it authentically from that side as well as from the Indigenous side.”

As an actor, Angeline’s big break came in 2014 when she made her feature film debut in the Sundance Film Festival favorite Drunktown’s Finest. Angeline is a queer Navajo, Chippewa Cree, Blackfeet, Shoshone, and Latinx woman. As an artist, she acts, directs, writes, produces, and performs music. Angeline has directed several shorts, including the musical short “Can’t Have It Both Ways” and the video for their song “Vibrant Eyes (Interlude).” They co-produced the 2019 feature Fukry. Next, Angeline is directing their feature documentary debut, Waveguides, about Indigenous women musicians.

The journey with Mitzi Bearclaw began in 2017, Angeline says. After a lengthy audition process, a meeting with the film’s writer-director, Shelley Niro, crystallized just who Mitzi was for Angeline. While the film is often thoughtful and sometimes melancholy, Mitzi Bearclaw is the uplifting story of a young woman figuring out who she is while navigating her family dynamics and culture. Like so many coming-into-oneself stories, Mitzi Bearclaw also tells its protagonist’s story through humor

“In the realm of Indigenous, particularly Native American acting, it’s a small pool,” Angeline says. “The majority of roles that come across our table are usually period pieces that are Western-centered. They are trauma-based.”

“I liked really diving into Mitzi and seeing how human she is. I related to the fact that she was that age making mistakes and she was trying to find herself and not necessarily always making the best decisions, but [that she] always had the best heart,” Angeline says of the comedic aspects of the film. “I related also to the fact that she’s kind of trying things. She’s stumbling all over the place. That’s not a character I’ve had a chance to really dig into.”

As for their queer identity, Angeline has always been out, even if it didn’t necessarily come up. But the role of Martha Hawk on Outer Range provided an opportunity to discuss their identity with their team.

“My agent didn’t know that I was queer until the question was asked for Outer Range, ‘Are you OK being in a relationship with a woman?’” Angeline says. “I said yes. That opened up the conversation.”

Angeline is “blessed” with an open family that accepted other queer family members even before her, and she hopes her nuanced portrayals of a young woman discovering herself in Mitzi Bearclaw and of the queer wife and mother Martha Hawk provide positive representation for Indigenous folks moving forward.

“It’s exciting to know that potentially [Outer Range] will be there for other young Indigenous queer people and non-Indigenous queer people, just to see an Indigenous family existing, doing all the fun things that people do,” they say. “Something as simple as that can be super powerful.”

 

 

This story is part of The Advocate’s 2021 Film and TV issue, which is out on newsstands October 5, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

Tags: Exclusives, film

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